With its latest self-driving car concept, Volvo wants to take on the airline industry.
Without a need for a steering wheel, Volvo opened up the interior of its 360c concept to accommodate a coffee table, a card table, a desk, and even a first-class airline-style bed.
The company says the self-driving capability and Ikea-like interior furnishings could allow the 360c to take over short airline trips, where travelers spend more time driving back and forth to the airport and waiting in security or baggage lines than actually flying.
Volvo notes that several popular trips fall into this sub-200-mile category, including New York to Washington, D.C.; Houston to Dallas; and Los Angeles to San Diego.
In Europe, travelers would take trains—which also often offer dining cars, tables to work on, and even sleeping bunks. Perhaps Volvo is suggesting the autonomous car as a substitute for train travel.
Volvo has taken the car-as-cabin idea to the Nth degree with the 360c concept. The Swedes have always excelled at interior furnishings, and an automotive cabin is perfect for cramming IKEA-like functionality into minimal spaces.
Passengers can sit opposite each other around a table off to the side, in the four corners of the cabin, sitting around a smaller table, or across the back of the car to minimize motion sickness and enjoy the view.
In Volvo's typical focus on safety, the company has designed a special airbag safety blanket to protect sleeping passengers in the event of an crashes—presumably one caused by another car since self-driving cars are supposed to eliminate crashes
Volvo acknowledges that it doesn't know what the self-driving future will bring, but it sees the 360c concept as a conversation starter about how autonomous cars should reshape travel, city planning, the environment, and even social interaction.
“When the Wright brothers took to the skies in 1903, they did not have a clue about what modern air travel would look like,” Mårten Levenstam, Volvo's senior vice president of corporate strategy, said in a statement. “We do not know what the future of autonomous drive will hold, but it will have a profound impact on how people travel, how we design our cities and how we use infrastructure."
If anything, the 360c serves to put short-haul air carriers on notice.